Law firm's 'gift' to Tampa turns into a permanent haven for the homeless

Tampa Heights park taken over by homeless

TAMPA - On any given day, you'll find homeless men and women not so much enjoying the small park just north of downtown Tampa, as living in it.  One bearded man who asked not to be named told me why.

"It's close. It's comfortable. You know, it's nice. The cops don't bother us. People come and feed us every now and then," he said.

Others say it's not as peaceful as it looks.

"I've seen fights, I've seen women taken advantage.  I've seen stuff stolen," said Theodore Triplett.

But there's one reason for being here that applies to almost everyone. It's a block from the Salvation Army.

Phil Bourquardez Park was paid for and is maintained by the neighboring Bush Ross Law firm.  The company was lavishly praised at the dedication in 2008 for giving Tampa Heights the gift of an urban park for all to enjoy.

But almost from the beginning, the proximity to the Salvation Army that houses people overnight, made it a full-time homeless encampment during the day.

"When you have an open space like that, I"m afraid they're going to meet there," said Steve Vick, general manager of the Tampa Salvation Army facility on Florida Avenue.

Vick acknowledges the problem, but says providing a daytime facility for hundreds, maybe thousands of homeless would be prohibitively expensive.

"We're talking about a whole different staff, all the feeding, all the cleaning and all the things that go into that. We barely have enough money to house them at night time," said Vick.

Robertson Billiard on Franklin Avenue is one of the few businesses to survive near the park, but the family that runs the game room supply says it takes a toll.

"It affects our day-to-day operations.  We have customers who walk in the door and ask, 'Am I safe parked over here?' And we have to address the issue," said Alana Martino.

Homeless advocates like Maria Barcus of the Hillsborough Homeless coalition say the solution lies in providing real homes, not shelters.

"It's much cheaper to house someone than to pay for all the things they're costing us by staying on the street," said Barcus.

The head of Bush Ross law firm did not answer calls requesting comment on the condition of the park they financed and maintain.

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